Voting in Tunisia ends in uncertainty and discontent

Tunisians voted on Sunday in a parliamentary election that saw low turnout and expressions of broad frustration with the government.

The vote featured more than 16,000 candidates from more than 200 different parties competing to fill the 217-seat unicameral legislature, the Assembly of People’s Representatives. 

The election came weeks after Tunisians voted in the first round of a presidential election that garnered much greater public attention. The presidential vote ended inconclusively, forcing a runoff on October 13.

Analysts said the parliamentary vote could have lasting effects on the future of the country, which experienced a democratic uprising in 2011 and has since struggled to achieve political and economic stability.

High security, low turnout

The parliamentary vote saw the Islamist party Ennahdha, which previously held the most seats in parliament, hoping to maintain its lead against Qalb Tounes (Heart of Tunisia), the party of jailed media magnate and presidential candidate Nabil Karoui.

Preliminary results are expected by Thursday. Exit polls were scheduled to be released late on Sunday.

The Tunisian parliament chamber filled with representatives (picture-alliance/AA/A. Landoulsi)

The Tunisian parliament will have two months to form a government once the vote results are in

Shortly after polls closed, Karoui said his party had come in first. He has been accused of tax evasion but says he is being politically targeted.

The country has grappled with terrorism, and voting took place amidst high security. Around 100,000 security officials patrolled some 4,500 polling stations on the country’s borders with Algeria and Libya.

According to the electoral commission, total turnout reached 49%, well under the more than 60% achieved in the 2014 legislative election, which saw the parliament be elected for the first time in its current form. Some 7 million Tunisians were eligible to vote. 

Many Tunisians are frustrated with traditional political parties’ failure to deal with high unemployment, poor services and rising costs of living.

Experts expect a highly factionalized outcome that could make government negotiations very difficult. The parties elected into parliament will nominate a prime minister, who will then have two months to get a government in place. 

It is the third time that Tunisians have voted in a parliamentary election since the 2011 uprisings that toppled longtime dictator Zine Abidine Ben Ali.

cmb/sms (AFP, AP)

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